Ar mo shon féin agus ar son pháirtí Fhianna Fáil, ba mhaith liom comhbhrón a dhéanamh le clanna Brendan McGahon agus Seymour Crawford. Ar dtús, maidir le Brendan McGahon, ba mhaith liom a rá gur polaiteoir agus fear lách, gnóthach, neamhspleách agus cróga a bhí ann. Is léir go raibh sé macánta agus bhí sé cróga maidir leis an méid a bhí sé sásta a rá i dtaobh gach aon rud agus ar gach aon cheist pholaitiúil ag an am.
During his 20 years in this House, Brendan McGahon established a reputation as a colourful and very straight-talking Deputy. Right from the start he made it clear that while a loyal party man, he was also his own man. He was one of the first of the independents within political parties that we have all come to know in more recent times. He was elected in November 1982 and at every election thereafter until he retired in 2002. He made his maiden speech on the topic of Dáil reform in January of 1983, saying that it might be somewhat "impertinent" of him, as a new Deputy, to endeavour to make any contribution to the debate. It is fair to say that Dáil Éireann got used to and enjoyed his impertinence over two decades.
Brendan was also a man of great courage, both moral and physical. He stood up to the Provisional IRA at a time when his own life could have been put in danger. It is difficult at this far distance to fully appreciate the depth of his courage on those occasions. He was a vocal critic of IRA violence and saw how it wrecked the Border region and the local economy over decades. He was very blunt and unflinching in his assessments. He stated, "Terrorists do not wage a war. They are despicable vermin who plant bombs in pubs and under cars and shoot people in the back." That was the nature of Brendan's articulation at the time. In a powerful contribution in 1983, he lamented how Dundalk had suffered so grievously since 1969 as a result of the Troubles.
It is not an overstatement to say that he placed a great emphasis on law and order, a very strong principle for him. He accepted that his views on this question would be considered a throwback to another era. He had no doubt that they would be scoffed at by many in the legal and academic arenas but he proclaimed his membership of the "hang them and flog them brigade" and made no apologies for it. He was of the view, as articulated in the House, that prisons were the equivalent of grade three hotels. He had a very clear, unvarnished perspective on issues.
While he was a staunch critic of the IRA, he was also a very strong critic of the British Government and its policies. He would, at times, invoke the late Liam Cosgrave in terms of being particularly conscious of how to deal with the British Government. His views might have had some application in the context of Brexit today. He was very strong on Northern Ireland. On one occasion he was first out of the traps to question the Government about British Army incursions across the Border, much to the consternation of one Charles J. Haughey, who had to settle for being second on the list of questioners on that occasion.
I had the opportunity, on first arriving in this House in 1989, to go on a visit to France. Deputies were restoring relations with French parliamentarians and Brendan accompanied a large delegation, of which I was the youngest. To say that it was some experience would be an understatement. I have to say that Brendan McGahon had many talents, as exemplified during that trip. He had great humour and wit and would have made a great comedian. I cannot go into the details of the stories of that trip because there are other Members who were on that trip who might not wish me to provide details of how Brendan made it one hell of a trip to remember.
In 2000, during one of his final contributions in the House, he joined in expressions of sympathy for the late Paddy Donegan, another Louth man whose career did not escape controversy. The words he used then could readily be applied to Brendan McGahon himself, who was:
... something else. He was different, flamboyant and colourful. He was not po-faced, as so many politicians are. I do not speak of anyone here. He was a big man, big in stature and big in heart ... he was big in generosity. He was also big in compassion. He served the people of Louth in a wonderful way.
I express my sympathy to Brendan's children, Robert, Conor, Adele, Keith and Jill, and to his extended family, particularly Councillor John McGahon who has followed in his footsteps.
Seymour Crawford, arís fear cneasta, cineálta, dílis dá mhuintir a bhí ann agus fear tuisceanach chomh maith. D'oibrigh sé go dian dícheallach ar son a mhuintire agus muintir a dhúiche mórthimpeall. Seymour Crawford was an affable Member of the House who was well respected across all parties and none. He was a dedicated public servant who always promoted peace in Northern Ireland, particularly in the context of his membership of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body. He gave a lot of insights to people in the House at the time about the complexities of the issues. He worked exceptionally hard for his constituents in Cavan-Monaghan as a councillor and as a Member of the Dáil.
I got to know Seymour well when I was Minister for Health because he was always working to try to improve services in the Cavan-Monaghan area. To be fair, he was a non-partisan politician who would come to me with ideas to resolve very difficult issues, of which there were many in the health arena at the time. He was always very personable and was very popular with all who got to know him. He had a great sense of decency and a very deep understanding, as the Taoiseach noted, of agricultural issues, stemming from his time in the Irish Farmers Association, IFA. Indeed, his very first Dáil contribution, which came on his second day in this House in 1992, was in connection with an increase in livestock headage payments during which he expressed annoyance that not all of the people of Cavan-Monaghan would avail of it. Throughout his time here it is fair to say that agriculture and rural Ireland were his predominant concerns and especially the Border region. He was somewhat concerned at times that the Border region seemed to be expanding, especially when it came to funding. He wittily observed in the Dáil that:
In the past whenever INTERREG funds were made available for Border areas, especially for roads, the Taoiseach thought fit to allocate some of those Border funds to Counties Longford, Roscommon and Meath. One wonders how those counties suddenly became Border areas.
Seymour Crawford was not one dimensional, however. In his final contribution in this House in 2011, he spoke of the need for greater gender balance in the Oireachtas, saying that he had an interest in this matter because he encouraged a young woman to accept a nomination to follow him into the Dáil. He stated, "The lady in question will face all sorts of difficulties because the political system is structured in a manner that does not encourage female participation in politics.". The woman in question entered Cabinet three and a half years later, so Seymour did well in terms of selecting his successor. He never held ministerial office. Fine Gael was in office for just two and a half of his 18 years in this House. Those two and a half years were during his first term as a Deputy, so he was unlucky in that respect. Uniquely, during his time here he was the only Presbyterian in the House and he was very committed to his faith. Had he been less committed, it is suggested, he might have entered the House in 1989. However, the Fine Gael selection convention was held on a Sunday on that occasion and Seymour felt that participation was not in alignment with his faith. It is fair to say that he was a man of strong principle. He was a strong advocate for his community and they can be proud that in Seymour Crawford they had a true and stalwart representative. I extend my sympathies to his niece, Kirsten, his nephews, Andrew and Alistair, and his extended family.